DoNorth

Maple Weekend

Freshly boiled maple syrup fills the air with a distinctively sweet smell as Mickey Maynard sits down to a piping-hot, maple-infused breakfast in a pancake house. He’s just a few steps from the Parker Family Maple Farm sugarhouse.“We look forward to Maple Weekend every spring to celebrate the end of a long winter with family and friends,” Maynard, a Lake Champlain fishing charter captain, says. Maynard is not alone. For the past 20 years, Maple Weekend has been a staple of early spring in upstate New York. In late March and early April, locals and tourists alike crowd into sugar…

Freshly boiled maple syrup fills the air with a distinctively sweet smell as Mickey Maynard sits down to a piping-hot, maple-infused breakfast in a pancake house. He’s just a few steps from the Parker Family Maple Farm sugarhouse.“We look forward to Maple Weekend every spring to celebrate the end of a long winter with family and friends,” Maynard, a Lake Champlain fishing charter captain, says.

Maynard is not alone. For the past 20 years, Maple Weekend has been a staple of early spring in upstate New York. In late March and early April, locals and tourists alike crowd into sugar houses scattered throughout the North Country to enjoy sweet treats made with tree-to-table maple syrup and extract.

Although upstate New York is renowned for its production of maple syrup, Maple Weekend is a statewide event. Hosted by the NYS Maple Association — a nonprofit organization for maple producers in New York State — more than 150 locations across New York were opened to visitors during Maple Weekend last spring, which marked the event’s 20th anniversary.

At the Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy, NY, visitors are greeted by the sugary scent of boiling sap, the twang of an acoustic guitar and the opportunity to see how their favorite maple treats are made.

The gentle whirring of the enormous evaporator standing in the center of the sugar house brings curious on-lookers closer. Guests watch as workers like Laura Trudeau, who has worked Maple Weekend in Parker’s sugar house for nine years, carefully monitors the tree sap as it boils into syrup.

By keeping tabs on the density of the sap as it is cycled through the evaporator, Trudeau can tell when the elixir has reached its target density — the syrup point.

“The syrup point is always 7 degrees above the boiling point of water,” Trudeau explains, “but it fluctuates slightly based on atmospheric pressure and the weather outside.”

Although fresh maple syrup is the main attraction, the Parker family sugar house features other sought-after maple goodies including maple cotton candy, maple ice cream and Rose Parker’s homemade maple candies. On the weekends, the Parker family offers a buffet-style pancake breakfast and for a small fee, visitors can eat their fill.

With 24 sugar houses in a 20-mile radius of Plattsburgh, there are plenty of options for curious North Country visitors. Just 7 miles west of the Parker Family Maple Farm, Bechard’s Sugar House, founded by Marvin Bechard and his father Maurice, is another potential stop for guests on their maple voyage.

As is the tradition of sugar houses on Maple Weekend, Bechard’s offers visitors a chance to roam through their facilities and satisfy their maple cravings with sugary sweets.

After Maurice’s passing in 2008, Marvin and his wife Tammy, who now co-own and operate the sugar house, decided to keep growing the business. The couple added products like maple cream and granulated maple sugar to their inventory.

Despite the array of maple goods offered at Bechard’s during Maple Weekend, Tammy says one product in particular stands out in her customer’s eyes.

“The thing that people come back for are the maple-glazed walnuts,” she says.

Since 1998, Bechard’s has grown from a 350-tap operation with a small evaporator into a sugaring business with just under 6,000 taps, capable of churning out 30 gallons of syrup per hour.

But on Maple Weekend Marvin and Tammy don’t just focus on production — they make sure their guests are well-insulated from the sharp chill and blustery winds of early springtime in the North Country.

Some of the people who stopped by Bechard’s last Maple Weekend even claimed it was the warmest sugar house on their tour, Marvin says.

“It’s cozy — we’ve got a gas fireplace,” Tammy says, “People can come in, sit down, visit a little bit and see the maple process.”

With more than 2,000 sugar makers operating in-state, sugar houses are flourishing. Boasting the highest abundance of tappable maple trees in the country, New York’s sugaring business continues to grow on an annual basis, making the maple industry one of the North Country’s sweetest endeavors. As Maynard explains, “It has become a tradition for us.”

Issue 6: Winter/Spring 2016

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